Pair It! – Food and Wine Guide
Release Date:August 13, 2009
Summary:Excellent food and wine pairing app that creates a context and reason for the wine to complement a certain food.
Some friends of mine from Canada joined me this past Halloween weekend for dinner and the odd round of conversation and amusing bouts of bickering. We had dinner at a family italian joint by the name of Franchino’s, where Franchino himself orates grandly from his thick, heavyset jowls and waves his hand to usher guests in, settling everyone at tables with candles with the iconic checker tablecloths, and montage photographs of celebrities tightly wrapped in Franchino’s sausage arms. The food was excellent: my pollo alla mandorla with its sweet onion jam and port wine sauce made me melt into myself, while my friend seated across from me said not a word, but managed to express every inkling of thought with drooping eyes and twitching smiles every time she took a nibble of this, a bite of that. All in all, it was a fabulous meal, but without the wine, it wouldn’t have been par excellence. A deeply red, Alicante Bouschet blend that lingered on the tongue with a heavy stupor of peppercorns, fresh soil, cherry and musk, and left you heady and breathless until you smoothed the tannins with a rich stew of meat or tomatoes proved the iconic choice of the night, and one that merited a convivial “Cheers” from the four of us.
My friends are wine enthusiasts, notably apparent from the suave, quick selection of a wine after only moments reading the menu, and then with the almost complacent swagger of sniffing the bouquet, and tasting the swish in the mouth, swallowing and narrowing the eyes convincingly, to then – aghast to some – even send back a wine if not to their liking. They know what they like, and they are not afraid to belittle a too oakey Chardonnay or a Cabernet Sauvignon that has too many bitter notes to be enjoyed. Some, like me, have taken a wine class or two, and know enough about wine and enjoy wine enough to have some sensibility in taste. However, regardless of the showy tasting spectacle of swirling, sniffing, inspection that most people feel absolutely out of sorts with, the brilliant thing about being knowledgeable about wine is knowing how to pair it with food. It is, after all, meant to be complemented.
This is why I had absolutely no hesitation in relying on an iPhone app called Pair It! by Bandar Interactive which takes the guessing out of food and wine pairing. I trust myself to have a good nose (I often tease my mother, telling her she has the olfactory capacity of a canine), but I have yet to develop that uncanny experience of, say, understanding that a cheddar, despite its sharp tang and almost offensive milk taste, pairs quite nicely with a similarly buttery, heavy Chardonnay. I definitely would not have though to bite a chunk of Tillamook Cheddar and then sip some Chardonnay, but I guess all that post-malolactic fermentation we California white wine producers are so fond of can have its perks. I suppose that’s why acclaimed wine country chef Bruce Riezenmann rolled up his sleeves and decided to bring this information and knowledge to the masses, in an easily searchable database.
When I saw that name I instantly recalled a restaurant by the name of Buona Sera that Chef Bruce operated here in Petaluma, before it closed a few years back. It was a local favorite and many residents were sorry to see it go. With Pair It! I can carry some of Chef Bruce’s wisdom with me anywhere I go, from baking in my kitchen, to dining out with friends. The app, itself, has a navigation bar along the bottom, with the tabs Food, Wine, Swirl, and Pairings reading from left to right. The swirl option is excellent for those nights when anything goes, or when you’re just looking for a spark of inspiration. Much like Urbanspoon’s slot machine device, shake your iPhone when on the Swirl function, and different foods and wines will spin, and land on something like Fume Blanc and Creamy Lemon Chicken, or a Semilion with Oyster Fritters. Tapping on the menu item (Oyster Fritters) will take you to the Pairing Detail page, with information on the wine, its general flavor and how it combines, how to pronounce the name, and then a brief description of the meal in question. I added the Oyster Fritters to my Favorites, because seafood fried in batter with creme fraiche, and then served with a rich, honeyed wine was just too good to pass up.
For many people, it might be easiest to choose a food first, under the Food tab, and then see what wines pair with it. Otherwise, in selecting a wine first, you might find yourself overwhelmed with sometimes 50 choices in food pairings, from cheeses, to meats, to salads and vegetarian entrees. Besides, most people (the non swirling, swishing, inhaling wine drinkers) tend to think of a food to eat, a choice in dinner, and then pick up a wine as an afterthought, one they hope will complement the meal nicely (“we’re having beef tonight, try to get a red wine!”). Under food, there are multiple options – Soups, Salads, Entrees, Pizza & Pasta, and Dessert to list a few. Within each of these are specific menu items with titles like Beef Roast with Watercress Butter, Chateaubriand with Bearnaise Sauce, Risotta Milanese, Vanilla Panna Cotta With Roasted Pear, and a host of other classic dishes that have been studied by the mouth over the years with or without wine. Obviously, these dishes are great starting points, and hopefully may even get the user interested in making a Bearnaise Sauce (to define it strictly in culinary vernacular, it’s a Hollandaise made with a vinegar reduction, instead of lemon juice). In any case, these exceptional dishes are not meant to be followed exactly, as precise formulas, but are meant to act as general markers in taste. As you may notice, the Beef Roast with Watercress Butter is paired only with red wines (lighter, medium, and darks); it’s easy to surmise that most beef roasts, due to their heavy, rich, stew-like nature will taste excellent with anything from the light Beaujolais to the heavier Cabernet Sauvignon. If all goes well, you may add an in-app note detailing how your food and wine pairing went, so you can rehash the memory later.
Under the Pairings tab, Chef Bruce has a list of some of his favorite pairings, from Blue Cheese with Amarone to Almond Cake with Asti Spumanti. All of them seem exceptionally well-crafted and studied, and if you’re at all feeling overwhelmed with the choices in Pair It!, these suggestions will leave you more than satisfied. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with this app. In a way, it forces you to become more familiar with wine, since you must read through the wine descriptions after selecting a food, or simply from choosing a wine to begin with. I, actually, like this aspect of Pair it!, because it introduces the user to wine slowly, but surely, and through repeated use will have the user unconsciously memorizing those difficult French wine names, and remembering how nicely that Boucheron cheese tasted with a Savennieres, but not so well with a Pinot Grigio. The wine tab has thorough but brief blurbs on each wines’ flavor bridges, origins, and pairing tips, along with a laundry list of foods it complements. Flipping through this information is easy enough at dinner, and allows you to quickly decipher that cryptic code that is the Wine Menu. No longer will you not know that a white burgundy Chablis Chardonnay has green apple and citrus notes as opposed to the buttery notes of a California Chardonnay. You will also quickly note that such a Chardonnay is best paired with seafood, oysters in particular, as it can balance buttery dishes and handle tart flavors.
Decoding wine is never a short process, but with Pair It!, a weekend drinker can make the best of a quick study in this long and controversial art.